World religions

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The Diploma Programme SL world religions course is a new course that was launched in September 2011. It is a systematic, analytical yet empathetic study of the variety of beliefs and practices encountered in nine main religions of the world. The course seeks to promote an awareness of religious issues in the contemporary world by requiring the study of a diverse range of religions. In the context of the mission statement of the IB it is most appropriate to study a number of living world religions in a scholarly, open-minded and objective way.

The religions should be studied in such a way that students acquire a sense of what it is like to belong to a particular religion and how that influences the way in which the followers of that religion understand the world, act in it, and relate and respond to others.

The course consists of an introductory unit, exploring five of the nine living world religions that form the basis of the syllabus. This is complemented by an in-depth study of two religions chosen from six world religions. This part of the syllabus is guided by themes, key concepts and key questions. The final component is the investigative study, which provides opportunities for individual research of an aspect of the religious experience, practice or belief of a group and/or individual adherents.

In the study of world religions, the experiential dimension to learning is of great importance, and it is hoped that the course will be a catalyst for visits to and from members of different faith communities. Where this is not possible, imaginative teaching, combined with the use of a range of resources, should enable the students to come to know what it means to be a follower of a particular religion.

World religions aims

The aims of the Diploma Programme world religions course are to enable students to:

  • promote an inquiring, analytical and empathetic approach to the study of religion
  • develop an informed understanding of the diversity of world religions
  • foster a respectful awareness of the significance of the beliefs and practices for the faith member
  • develop an understanding of how religion affects people’s lives
  • encourage a global appreciation of the issues surrounding religious and spiritual beliefs, controversies and movements in the world today
  • promote responsible and informed international citizenship.

The following three questions underpin the study of all world religions.

  • What is the human condition?
  • Where are we going?
  • How do we get there?

The syllabus specification focuses on core beliefs, but these should not be seen to exclude or restrict the diversity of beliefs and practices that are present within religions. 

Chart of world religions

Students should be introduced to a range of world religions reflecting different traditions, beliefs and practices. Five religions must be selected, at least one from each of the three columns (approximate teaching time is 50 hours, that is, 10 hours for each religion).


Hinduism Judaism Taoism
Buddhism Christianity Jainism
Sikhism Islam Baha’i Faith

World religions and the international dimension

The Diploma Programme world religions course seeks to promote respect for the diversity of religious
beliefs, both locally and globally, with the aim of enhancing international and inter-religious understanding.

The course provides a very different perspective in this area. Students should be encouraged to look at contemporary national and international issues regarding religion and how these may impact on ethical and legal issues.

Learn more about world religions in a DP workshop for teachers

World religions and prior learning

No particular background in terms of specific subjects studied for national or international qualifications is expected or required, and no prior knowledge of world religions is necessary for students to undertake this course of study.

World religions subject brief

Subject briefs are short two-page documents providing an outline of the course. Read the standard level (SL) and/or higher level (HL) subject brief below. 

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World religions SL (PDF, 37 KB) pdf